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Salina R. v. Saul

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

July 31, 2019

SALINA R., Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          DAVID L. HORAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Salina R. seeks judicial review of a final adverse decision of the Commissioner of Social Security pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons explained below, the hearing decision should be reversed and this case is remanded to the Commissioner of Social Security for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         Background

         Plaintiff alleges that is she disabled as a result of major depression disorder, severe anxiety, chronic fatigue, mood disorder, and post traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”). See Administrative Record [Dkt. No. 13-1] (“Tr.”) at 21, 277. Alleging an onset date of June 9, 2015, Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental social security income, which the Commissioner initially denied - and denied again on reconsideration. See Id. at 140, 150. Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). See Id. at 156. That hearing was held on November 6, 2017. See Id. at 30. At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was 39 years old and had completed high school. See Id. at 23. Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her onset date of June 9, 2015. See Id. at 14. The date until which Plaintiff will be insured is December 31, 2020. See Id. at 12.

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. See Id. at 24. Although the medical evidence established that Plaintiff suffered major depression disorder, severe anxiety, chronic fatigue, mood disorder, and post traumatic stress disorder, the ALJ concluded that the severity of those impairments did not meet or equal any impairment listed in the social security regulations. See Id. at 18. The ALJ further determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform

less than the full range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), such that the claimant is able to lift and/or carry no more than 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; stand and/or walk six hours of an eight-hour workday; sit for six hours of an eight-hour workday with normal breaks. The claimant is limited to no climbing of ladders, ropes[, ] or scaffolds, and she needs to avoid exposure to extremes of heat and unprotected heights. Mentally, the claimant is limited to performing simple, routine tasks and simple decision making, in an environment that involves few, if any, workplace changes. Interaction with supervisors, coworkers, and the public is limited to occasional, and she requires work with no strict productions quotas.

See Id. at 20. As such, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled under Medical-Vocational Guidelines because, given her age, education, and exertional capacity for work, she was capable of working as a ticket printer and tagger, a retailer marker, or a hardware assembler - jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. See Id. at 28.

         Plaintiff appealed the decision to the Appeals Council, which affirmed the ALJ's decision. See Id. at 1-5; 247.

         Plaintiff then filed this action in federal district court. See Dkt. No. 1. Plaintiff challenges the hearing decision on the grounds that the ALJ failed to apply the 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c) factors before rejecting Plaintiff's treating source opinion. See Dkt. No. 17 at 24.

         The undersigned concludes that the hearing decision should be reversed and remanded.

         Legal Standards

         Judicial review in social security cases is limited to determining whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole and whether Commissioner applied the proper legal standards to evaluate the evidence. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Copeland v. Colvin, 771 F.3d 920, 923 (5th Cir. 2014); Ripley v. Chater, 67 F.3d 552-55 (5th Cir. 1995). Substantial evidence is “more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); accord Copeland, 771 F.3d at 923. The Commissioner, rather than the courts, must resolve conflicts in the evidence, including weighing conflicting testimony and determining witnesses' credibility, and the Court does not try the issues de novo. See Martinez v. Chater, 64 F.3d 172, 174 (5th Cir. 1995); Greenspan v. Shalala, 38 F.3d 232, 237 (5th Cir. 1994). This Court may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for the Commissioner's but must scrutinize the entire record to ascertain whether substantial evidence supports the hearing decision. See Copeland, 771 F.3d at 923; Hollis v. Bowen, 837 F.2d 1378, 1383 (5th Cir. 1988). The Court “may affirm only on the grounds that the Commissioner stated for [the] decision.” Copeland, 771 F.3d at 923.

         “In order to qualify for disability insurance benefits or [supplemental security income], a claimant must suffer from a disability.” Id. (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)). A disabled worker is entitled to monthly social security benefits if certain conditions are met. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(a). The Act defines “disability” as the inability to engage in substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or last for a continued period of 12 months. See Id. § 423(d)(1)(A); see also Copeland, 771 F.3d at 923; Cook v. Heckler, 750 F.2d 391, 393 (5th Cir. 1985).

         “In evaluating a disability claim, the Commissioner conducts a five-step sequential analysis to determine whether (1) the claimant is presently working; (2) the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) the impairment meets or equals an impairment listed in appendix 1 of the social security regulations; (4) the impairment prevents the claimant from doing past relevant work; and (5) the impairment prevents the ...


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